HRWFF 2015: Read our preview

Continuing its mandate of highlighting the abundance of human rights violations and shocking injustices that occur globally each day, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival looks to disrupt the escapist narratives of the multiplex with a week and a half of challenging and eye-opening films from around the world. A soapbox for many of the voices often ignored by Western cinema, each of the films programmed looks to initiate a passionate and informed debate through a deft deployment of emotive, inspiring and often unsettling depictions of the inequality suffered across the globe. The 2015 instalment of the festival takes place across London from the 18th – 27th March with a programme boasting 16 award-winning documentary and features.

They’ll be screenings at some of London’s finest cinemas, including The Barbican, Curzon Soho and Ritzy Picturehouse, with the festival’s fundraising benefit Gala held within the opulent environs of the British Museum on Wednesday 18 March. The event will include the UK Premiere of Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado’s Academy Award nominated The Salt of the Earth (2014), a documentary following internationally renowned photographer Sebastião Salgado (Juliano Ribeiro Salgados father) as he travelled the globe building a portfolio on climate change. The screening will be followed by a discussion with the photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale. The following day the festival will officially open with the UK premier of The Yes Men are Revolting (2014), the third documentary by notorious activists The Yes Man. The film follows their attempts to expose the crimes against humanity and the environment by global corporations.

This years programme is organised around four themes: ‘Arts Versus Oppression’; ‘Changemakers’; ‘Family History and Human Rights’; and ‘Home and Security’. It takes a closer look at migrant homelessness in Europe, the illegitimate manipulation of the democratic process and the wider, more ruinous repercussions of climate change on communities ill-equipped to deal with rising sea levels and global temperatures. This year’s event has a strong Latin American contingent with films from Chile, Columbia, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Peru. However that’s not to say that there is a narrower focus, as there’s also works championing issues in Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Palestine, Zimbabwe and in Uyghurs – Prisoners of the Absurd (2014) looks at China’s Uyghur minority living in Afghanistan.

Focusing on a small cluster from this diasporic community who were severely affected when US troops invaded in 2001, the film explores how these men were sold as terrorists to the US Government and treated as unlawful combatants; ultimately imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay and forced to endure inhumane treatment as part of their incarceration. Another highlight of this years programme is Camilla Nielsson’s Democrats (2014) an intuitive (if perhaps slightly blinkered) look into the mechanism behind the questionable political actions of Robert Mugabes ZANU-PF party in Zimbabwe. Following the discourse between the long-time ruling ZANU-PF, and the Movement for Democratic Change as they attempt to develop a new constitution, Nielsson presents us with an insightful look into the underhand tactics that led to violent clashes throughout the country. Whilst refusing to leave the safety of the film’s Western perspective and attempt to understand the views of those affected personally by these absurd political parlour games, the film is a genuinely gripping depiction of a very real, very disheartening David and Goliath power struggle.

The third instalment of Fernand Melgar’s documentation of the migrant experience in Europe The Shelter (2014) will also screen at this year and charts a particularly cold winter at an emergency shelter for homeless migrants in the wealthy Swiss city of Lausanne. Predominantly known for housing the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee, Melgar presents a less glamorus side of the city, his sensitive approach attempting to render the camera invisible. Focusing on the heart-breaking procedures essential for the shelter to operate, we observe as staff are forced to randomly select the evening’s fifty chosen residents, whilst informing those unlucky enough to make the cut that they’ll be facing a long and incredibly cold night on the streets. Each film at this year’s event will feature a Q&A session after every screening and the festival also boasts live music performances and a Guardian Masterclass focusing on human rights reporting and digital storytelling. The festival closes on Friday 27 March at the Ritzy with Jon Stewart’s gripping and surprisingly oneiric directorial debut Rosewater (2014), starring Gael Garcia Bernal as Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari who was detained by Iranian forces and brutally interrogated.

Tickets for the festival are on sale now, and can be purchased from

Patrick Gamble | @PatrickJGamble